Women sacrifice a lamb as thanksgiving in Maihue, Los Ríos, Chile, on the morning after a <em>machi</em> (an ancestral authority and spiritual guide) has gone into a trance seeking guidance for her people.&nbsp;
2024 Photo Contest, South America, Long-Term Projects

The Return of the Ancient Voices


Pablo Ernesto Piovano

Greenpeace Award, GEO, National Geographic Society
26 June, 2023

Women sacrifice a lamb as thanksgiving in Maihue, Los Ríos, Chile, on the morning after a machi (an ancestral authority and spiritual guide) has gone into a trance seeking guidance for her people. 

Mapuche communities are the Indigenous inhabitants of territories that are now part of southern Argentina and Chile. The different communities, who survived the 16th-century Spanish colonization and the violent expansion of Chile and Argentina 300 years later, now face a new challenge. Much of their ancestral land is being commercially exploited – for mining, forestry, and hydroelectric projects in Chile, and fracking and mining in Argentina.

In some cases, long-standing territorial claims have led to violence. In 2021, Chile's then president, Sebastián Piñera, declared a state of emergency and ordered the army to assist the police in enforcing the measure. Evidence has shown that these militarized special forces were accused of violating human rights, fabricating evidence and killing unarmed Mapuche, while some Mapuche groups were also accused of sabotage against forestry companies. Piñera's successor, President Gabriel Boric, promised a less militarized approach and to speed up the return of disputed land. However, discrimination and punishment of Mapuche activists continues. In Argentina, Mapuche communities have marched and blocked roads, defending communal land ownership and demanding a territorial study to establish land rights.

For many Mapuche, this is not just a territorial dispute: the land is part of their cultural and spiritual identity. Commercial degradation of the environment upsets the balance between nature, ancestors and human health. An expanding forestry industry is replacing the rich biodiversity of plants that are part of the Mapuche cultural heritage with pine and eucalyptus monocultures; the enormous wealth generated by forestry companies does not always benefit the local population. Dams for hydroelectric projects also alter ecosystems, flood traditional lands, threaten cultural traditions and displace communities. Fracking displaces communities, disrupts water supplies (water is sacred to the Mapuche) and has caused earthquakes. Local communities report negative impacts on their health and well-being. This project offers a deeper insight into how the worldview of Mapuche communities is an integral part of their struggle to preserve both their ancestral territories and their balance with nature. 

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Pablo Ernesto Piovano
About the photographer

Pablo Ernesto Piovano (b. 1981) is a documentary photographer from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Across his career, Piovano has collaborated with international media such as Geo, Stern, Liberation, L’Expresso, Bloomberg and others.  He has won numerous awards including the Henri Nannen Prize (2018), Greenpe...

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Jury comment

This project is a compelling portrayal of Indigenous struggles that challenges stereotypes and offers insight into the worldview of the Mapuche. The story resonates across the region, emphasizing the value of Indigenous knowledge systems in their battles against governments and extractive industries. This work underscores the need for broader representation and recognition in the press.